Entry Price: $30,630
Price as Tested: $42,893

This week, we test our final 2017 model of the year as from here on, all test drive reviews will be 2018 models. Our review this week centers on the Toyota Highlander SE AWD, powered by a new V6 engine with all-wheel-drive (AWD) underpinnings.

With room for seven passengers, Highlander continues to be one of Toyota’s most popular and bestselling SUV vehicles and boasts “recommended” ratings from the major consumer magazines in the mid-size class. Since its North America introduction in 2001 and built on the Toyota Camry platform, Highlander became one of the most popular SUVs in America along with sibling and smaller Toyota RAV4. Nowadays, it seems the biggest decision Toyota SUV consumers have to make is whether to buy a Highlander or a RAV4.

Built in Princeton, Indiana, our Highlander SE provides decent room for seven passengers thanks to a third row bench seat. Ease of access to the third row is notable, although adults might find that longer trips in row three might be a bit cumbersome. Still, your kids and the family dog will love it.

A total of nine Highlanders are available in 2017, among them six internal combustion only Highlanders and three Hybrids. The entry LE starts at just $30,630 retail and comes with a 185-horse four cylinder and six-speed automatic. Once you move up, a brand new V6 with an eight-speed automatic is standard across the board all the way up to the most expensive Limited Platinum, which starts at $46,260.

Our SE AWD tester offers a Dynamic Torque Control AWD system which operates in either fully automatic or a locked, push button, Snow mode. All of the Hybrid models come standard with AWD as your dealer will gladly explain all trims, prices and specifications.

The Highlander SE AWD base price is $41,150 and comes loaded with standard luxury equipment. Highlander SE also features an upgraded suspension system for sportier handling while still delivering a quiet and comfortable ride. New for 2017 is a re-styled front end with larger grille and a rear tail light enhancement.

Most notable is the aforementioned and new 3.5-liter V6 engine, offering more power and acceleration while delivering better fuel economy than the V6 it replaces. Delivering a stout 295 horsepower and 263 lb. ft of torque, you’ll enjoy the enhanced peppy performance and then also approve of Highlander’s 20 city and 26 highway EPA mileage, both good numbers for an AWD vehicle of this size. Tow capacity is also notable as all V6 Highlanders can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Some of the increased fuel economy comes thanks to a new “start-stop” engine feature that shuts the engine down when you come to a stop. The V6’s Direct Shift eight-speed automatic also helps out with the fuel mileage numbers as it is geared for both acceleration and highway cruising. I recommend the V6 with the eight-speed over the four cylinder with the six speed if you are considering an LE model as the V6/eight-speed is an option as is AWD.

Significant is the continued progress of Highlander to “near Lexus” esteem in both luxury and ride, especially when you get to the higher priced SE and Limited models. Starting with SE’s perforated leather seating to its new look, you’ll be quite pleased overall when you park a Toyota Highlander in your driveway.

SE standard equipment is extensive. Included are backup safety camera, three zone climate control with first and second row controls, power lift gate with jam protection, lots of cup holders, five USB ports with three in front and two out back, keyless entry/start, sliding second row captain seats, 50/40 split fold forward bench third row seat, 19-inch Toyo tires on great looking alloy wheels, heated front seating, power moonroof, Premium Entune Stereo system with Navigation, and much more.

Noteworthy for 2017 is safety, as each and every Highlander now comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense system, resulting in solid Five Star overall government safety ratings. From pre-collision with pedestrian detection to lane departure with steering assist, all of the modern safety upgrades are standard this year and beyond.

A recommended option is Toyota’s “paint protection film,” which is nearly invisible (of course) and goes half way up on the front hood and also along the front fender area. It costs $395, but assures no paint chipping from the usual debris particles that every roadway in America sends our way.

Other options include All Weather floor mats and liners for $249 and a rear bumper protector for $139. Delivery of $960 pushed the final tally to $42,893 retail, but check with your Toyota salespeople for year-end leftover discounts and incentives going on right now.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 109.8 inches, 4,464 lb. curb weight, from 13.8 to 83.7 cu. ft. of cargo space, 8.0 inch ground clearance, 38.7 ft. turn circle, and a 19.2 gallon fuel tank.

Toyota Highlander for 2017 is a Test Drive “Best Buy.” Overall, it’s a safe, good looking, extremely reliable SUV that still stands out against the competition in this very crowded segment.

Likes: Toyota quality, new V6 engine/transmission, enhanced design, good resale value.
Dislikes: Third row seat snug for adults, not much else.

— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other Gatehouse Media publications.